The Ring (15)
The Hollywood remake machine continues to churn ‘em out, and this (admittedly impressive) rehash of the 1998 Japanese horror phenomenon Ringu soaks the screen in dread to deliver one of the most chilling American horrors of recent vintage.
Except of course, that it’s not really American. Following in the wake of Vanilla Sky (another Stateside remake of a better foreign film) and The Good Thief (from Melville’s Bob le Flambeur), The Ring takes an accepted modern classic from overseas and manipulates it to fit into the American cinematic style. In that respect it’s neither original nor innovative; director Gore (The Mexican) Verbinski does, however, manage to catch a sizeable amount of the original’s creepy atmosphere.
The film’s title comes from a cycle of deaths linked to a videotape. Anyone who watches the mysterious, grainy tape, which features images of a ring, a woman in a mirror, a chair, a tree, is found dead seven days later following a telephone call that prophesies their death. At first the story of the tape is treated like a schoolyard legend, but when people start to die from fright after viewing it, among them the teenage niece of TV journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts, so good in Mulholland Drive), she launches her own investigation.
The Ring is scary but not terrifying, though the stunning Watts works extremely hard to help construct the atmosphere of menace that has had American audiences hiding beneath their seats. A detective story crossed with a ghost story, The Ring begins with a genuinely unnerving first five minutes as the two girls – Watts’ niece and her pal – meet something unnatural in the big house where they’re enjoying a girls’ night in. Quite simply, one of them has watched the tape. She’s had the ‘phone call. And seven days has passed.
The next day, one is dead, her body hidden in a cupboard. The other has gone insane.
This straight carbon copy of Ringu – similar to Gus Van Sant’s rendition of Hitchcock’s Psycho – takes Hideo Nakata’s original and replicates it in almost every way, save for a watered-down denouement. Yet while director Verbinski has incorporated many of the original’s tremendous shock sequences – such as the flashback to the discovery of the dead girl’s corpse in the cupboard, a humdinger moment of pure horror – he simply cannot compete with the unearthly nature of Nakata’s movie.
There is something otherworldly about the Nakata film, which was based on Kôji Suzuki’s 1989 novel. Perhaps it’s the foreign style, perhaps the difference in language but, whatever it may be, The Ring cannot compete with it. Even the use of the same camera trickery – time-lapse photography that helps build a sense of the unreal and unnerving – appears weaker when compared to the original film.
Of course, audiences that have yet to see Nakata’s terrifying and iconic original will judge The Ring on its merits, and rightly so, but anyone who sees in it a modern horror classic should really look up the first film to see what fright is all about.
Far Eastern horror took a quantum leap forward with the likes of Ringu, Odishon (aka Audition) and Jian gui (aka The Eye), but it is Ringu that has the most resonance with European audiences. The Ring is a fair representation of what Nakata did, but it in no way compares to the nerve-jangling horror of Ringu.
If you really want to be scared enough to look under your bed at night, see Ringu – the original and the best.
Star rating: ***